filling in the blanks

Arbitrator: City used "circular reasoning" to justify turnarounds

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s testimony before an arbitrator drove one nail into the coffin of the city’s plans to replace or rehire teachers at 24 “turnaround” schools.

Last week an arbitrator determined that the city violated the city’s contracts with the teachers and principals unions when it moved to replace staff members at the schools. This afternoon the arbitrator, Scott Buchheit, released a detailed explanation of why he ruled the way he did.

The city was trying to use hiring procedures set for closing schools and their replacements. But the unions argued that the turnaround plans were “sham closures” that would not result in new schools. Instead, they argued, the city was unfairly using contractual provisions about “excessing” to remove teachers and administrators it deemed unsatisfactory.

In upholding the unions’ grievance, Buchheit at times turns Bloomberg’s and other city officials’ words against them.

He quotes a 2011 memorandum written by the Department of Education’s chief financial officer, which said, “excessing is not a permissible way to deal with unsatisfactory teachers.”

Yet city officials said they intended to do just that from the start of the turnaround process, Buchheit determined.

When he first announced the turnaround plans during his State of the City Address in January, Bloomberg “repeatedly made clear that the DOE’s new plan concerning the 24 (then 33) schools was based upon the desire to change staffing in the classroom,” Buchheit writes. He quotes Bloomberg saying, “Under this process, the best teachers stay; the least effective go.”

The arbitrator notes that Bloomberg has frequently expressed his distaste for the current process for shedding teachers from schools that are contracting, which is based on seniority, not job performance. “Suffice it to say that at the arbitration hearing the Mayor reaffirmed his dislike,” Buchheit writes.

Buchheit emphasized that he was not passing judgment on the value of the city’s plans for the schools, which State Education Commissioner John King approved in late June. And he said nothing in his decision would prevent the city from continuing with portions of the plans that do not involve using the hiring rules that take effect when schools are closed.

Those rules, outlined in a clause in the teachers union contract known as 18D, call for closing schools to set up hiring committees to review current teachers who apply for jobs at the replacement schools. According to 18D, the committees must hire back at least half of them of the qualified applicants from each school. City officials and school administrators began carrying out 18D procedures in the 24 schools last month with the understanding that the arbitrator could ultimately reverse it.

Department of Education officials had said they were confident that King’s approval of the reform plans would prove that the 24 schools were truly being closed. But Buchheit said King’s decision did not necessarily mean the schools were being closed and replaced with new schools. “New,” he said, typically means “never existing before,” which would not be the case for the 24 schools.

“The evidence here establishes that much would remain the same in the 24 new schools,” he wrote, including the schools’ buildings, student populations, courses, partnering organizations, and, for 18 of them, their principals. He also noted that many of the schools’ new names would still contain the old names, such as August Martin High School, which would change to “The School of Opportunities at the August Martin Campus.”

Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg also suggested that the school closings were inauthentic, the arbitrator concludes, when he wrote in a memorandum to principals shortly after Bloomberg’s speech explaining that their schools would be closed “as a technical matter.”

For the schools to be truly new, Buchheit says, much would have to change, including their overall educational visions and leadership. Instead, the biggest change the city cited was the planned staffing change — but that change could only happen, he notes, if the schools were new.

“The DOE cannot use the end result of Article 18D being invoked as justification for why it is permitted to invoke 18D,” Buchheit writes. “I cannot adopt this circular reasoning for the purposes of contract interpretation.”

On Monday, Bloomberg said the city would appeal Buchheit’s ruling because the arbitrator had not yet explained his rationale. But after reading the opinion, city attorney Georgia Pestana said the city will not withdraw its appeal, which it filed in State Supreme Court on Monday. “The arbitrator clearly exceeded his authority,” she said.

The city had argued that the unions’ grievances were not arbitrable at all. In his opinion, Buchheit rejects each of the city’s three arguments for why the grievance should not be subject to binding arbitration.

Buchheit’s full decision is below:

Re(new)al schools

New York City plans to merge, close, or shrink these 19 schools

PHOTO: Ed Reed for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The New York City education department plans to close 14 low-performing schools at the end of the academic year, officials announced Monday. You can read much more about those changes — and why they’re significant moves for Mayor Bill de Blasio — here.

Here’s the full list of changes the city is proposing.

The nine Renewal schools the city plans to close:

  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (District 4)
  • Coalition School for Social Change (District 4)
  • High School for Health Careers and Sciences (District 6)
  • New Explorers High School (District 7)
  • Urban Science Academy (District 9)
  • P.S. 92 Bronx School (District 12)
  • Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School (District 23)
  • P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam (District 27)
  • M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo (District 27)

The five other schools the city plans to close:

  • KAPPA IV (District 5)
  • Academy for Social Action (District 5)
  • Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute (District 8)
  • Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation (District 12)
  • Eubie Blake School (District 16)

The schools the city plans to merge into others:

  • Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community (District 8), becoming part of Longwood Preparatory Academy, another Renewal school
  • Entrada Academy (District 12) into Accion Academy
  • Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies (District 18) into East Flatbush Community and Research School
  • Middle school grades of Gregory Jocko Jackson School (District 23) into Brownsville Collaborative Middle School

Other changes:

  • Wadleigh Secondary School for The Performing Visual Arts (District 3) will no longer serve middle school students. It will start a plan “to transform Wadleigh into one of New York City’s top audition arts high schools,” according to the city.

The schools that will “graduate” from the Renewal program for showing improvements, gaining the designation of “Rise” school: 

  • P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente (District 1)
  • Orchard Collegiate Academy (District 1)
  • Renaissance School of the Arts (District 4)
  • I.S. 528 Bea Fuller Rodgers School (District 6)
  • P.S. 154 Jonathan D. Hyatt (District 7)
  • Bronx Early College Academy for Teacher and Learning (District 9)
  • DreamYard Preparatory School (District 9)
  • J.H.S. 80 The Mosholu Parkway (District 10)
  • The Bronx School of Young Leaders (District 10)
  • Urban Scholars Community School (District 12)
  • P.S. 067 Charles A. Dorsey (District 13)
  • J.H.S. 050 John D. Wells (District 14)
  • Ebbets Field Middle School (District 17)
  • East Flatbush Community Research School (District 18)
  • Brooklyn Generation School (District 18)
  • P.S. 328 Phyllis Wheatley (District 19)
  • Cypress Hills Collegiate Preparatory (District 19)
  • Pan American International High School (District 24)
  • P.S. 197 The Ocean School (District 27)
  • J.H.S. 8 Richard S. Grossley (District 28)
  • John Adams High School (District 27)

Re(new)al schools

New York City moves to close 14 struggling schools, including site of Bronx stabbing

PHOTO: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this year with Chancellor Carmen FariƱa.

The New York City education department plans to close 14 low-performing schools at the end of the academic year, officials announced Monday, marking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most aggressive effort to date to shutter struggling schools.

Nine of the proposed closures involve schools in the city’s “Renewal” program, which has marshalled extra funding and support for troubled schools. Among the five non-Renewal schools is the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation, the Bronx high school where a student fatally stabbed a classmate in September, a school described by students and parents as chaotic and plagued by unchecked bullying.

The moves will leave over 4,500 students searching for new schools to attend next fall, and more than 400 teachers seeking new jobs. Officials said the department’s enrollment office would work individually with the students to make sure they land in high-performing schools, while human resources staff would support the teachers in finding new placements. However, it’s likely that some will end up in the pool of teachers who lack permanent positions and act as roving substitutes — a costly group that the de Blasio administration has been trying to shrink.

Even as the city seeks to shutter schools in the $582 million Renewal program that have made insufficient progress since the program launched in 2014, it is also creating a new pathway for improving schools to graduate out of the program. Twenty-one schools that have made academic and attendance gains will leave the Renewal program at the end of the academic year, freeing them from intense oversight by the education department.

The city will also move to combine five Renewal schools that enroll very few students, and remove the middle-school grades from a school that currently serves grades 6 to 12.

The changes, which still must be approved by an oversight panel during its meeting in February, would leave 46 schools in the turnaround program next year out of the current 78. While the Renewal program was originally cast as an intensive three-year intervention, the remaining schools will be entering their fourth year in the program. Renewal officials and superintendents will soon ramp up their presence in the schools, which will be expected to hit their progress goals by next November, officials said.

Families in the affected schools will receive letters about the proposals and personal phone calls Monday, officials said. Meanwhile, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was scheduled to brief reporters at the education department headquarters Monday morning.

The nine Renewal schools the city plans to close are:

  • P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (District 4)
  • Coalition School for Social Change (District 4)
  • High School for Health Careers and Sciences (District 6)
  • New Explorers High School (District 7)
  • Urban Science Academy (District 9)
  • P.S. 92 Bronx School (District 12)
  • Brooklyn Collegiate: A College Board School (District 23)
  • P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam (District 27)
  • M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo (District 27)

The five other schools the city plans to close are:

  • KAPPA IV (District 5)
  • Academy for Social Action (District 5)
  • Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute (District 8)
  • Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation (District 12)
  • Eubie Blake School (District 16)

The schools the city plans to merge are:

  • Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community (District 8), becoming part of and Longwood Preparatory Academy
  • Entrada Academy (District 12) into Accion Academy
  • Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies (District 18) into East Flatbush Community and Research School
  • Middle school grades of Gregory Jocko Jackson School (District 23) into Brownsville Collaborative Middle School